There Goes Ryman Simon


I reserve the right to post a more detailed review later, but this was the thought going through my head during Thursday night’s Paul Simon concert at the Ryman auditorium in Nashville:

Whatever I do next, I want to love it in the way that Paul Simon appears to love music.

In fact, forget limiting that to career. I want to love Heather the way Paul Simon appears to love music. I want to love the boys that way. My church. Improv. Everything I care about.

I read an article 20 years ago about the 1991 concert in Central Park arguing that Paul Simon is much more a studio musician than a concert musician — that he’s very much a deliberate perfectionist who focuses on getting things “just so” on the recording. Live shows, then, are just an impossible attempt to recapture what was done perfectly in the studio.

And I would agree with that assessment of his studio work. If I had any criticism of his most recent album, “So Beautiful Or So What,” it’s that at times it’s seems too meticulous, too deliberate, too intentional, too perfect; that at times the combined artistry and craftmanship seem to have lost a very little of the feeling.

But I was aware of that perception of his concerts — as well as a perception that he can be a bit dour, dating back to old SNL appearances and the “You Can Call Me Al” video — when I saw him solo for the first time at the Ryman.

I was surprised at how much fun it was.

I guess maybe I was picturing music appreciators sitting respectfully in a performance venue while a respected artist shared classics of the medium.

Late in the evening, Paul Simon played “Late In The Evening,” and it captured the mood perfectly.

When I come back to the room, everybody just seemed to move
And I turned my amp up loud and I began to play

It was late in the evening, and I blew that room away

It was like he was that kid again, with his funky electric guitar, having fun rocking for a crowd that was eating it up.

We were having fun. He was having fun.

“Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” from the last album captured the dichotomy for me. It’s perfect on the album. It’s raucous live. Both are great. They’re just different.

And that’s how Paul Simon seems to love music.

He loves it devotedly.

He loves it as a studio musician who pours himself into it, studies it, wants to understand it, wants to do it right, wants to be dedicated and meticulous and deliberate. He invests, and works, hard.

But he also loves it passionately.

When he was on stage Thursday night, he looked like there was nowhere he would rather be. He looked like he couldn’t be having more fun that night than he was having on that stage playing those songs.

And that’s what I want — I want a job that I can love in a way that engages me and I’m absolutely dedicated to doing and doing well, but that I enjoy. I want to be to Heather and the boys someone who loves them devotedly and works hard for what’s best for them, but who also can’t imagine anything more fun than being with them.

Devotion and passion. I don’t think that’s too much to strive for.

Paul Simon — “So Beautiful Or So What”

Updated 7 Feb. with “The Afterlife” link

Paul Simon So Beautiful or So What album cover

OK, this post serves basically two purposes.

One is that after posting the video for the first single for the album, I’ve already started getting some search traffic with people looking for information about it.

The other is that, after my experiences being contacted by and working with publicists for Jewel and Lori McKenna, this is a desperate plea for an advance review copy of the new album. (I previously got a little bit of attention on some Paul Simon forums for my post about the Simon and Garfunkel performance at Jazzfest in New Orleans last year.)

That said, it was a sad statement of my fandom when I had to learn about the new CD on Facebook when my friend and former coworker Maggie posted the video.

If you haven’t seen the video, I posted it a while back, and, while the single is available on iTunes, you can download it for free on the official Paul Simon site.

The album drops on April 12, as a CD, deluxe CD/DVD and vinyl record. (Amazon currently has only the CD/DVD combolisted for pre-order.)

The first single will also be the first track, full track listing is (with versions and info currently available, subject to change):

  1. Getting Ready for Christmas Day ( Lyrics )
  2. The Afterlife
  3. ( Streaming )

  4. Dazzling Blue
  5. Rewrite ( Lyrics )
  6. Love and Hard Times ( Live Performance | Lyrics )
  7. Love is Eternal Sacred Light
  8. Amulet ( Cover Video | Preview | Lyrics [Unsure if SBOSW version will be same])
  9. Questions for the Angels ( Lyrics [This song was released as a single on iTunes but withdrawn])
  10. Love and Blessings
  11. So Beautiful or So What

PaulSimonWeb has an extensive article about the album, with some interesting information. Going through the links above, the officially released first single is the only one that’s in a form that reflects the final product, so I’ll be very eager to hear what the actual album sounds like.

Several sites are reporting that Simon has said it’s his best work in 20 years, which would be back in the Rhythm of the Saints era (and would slight only You’re The One and Surprise, and possibly Capeman, depending on what he counts).  It also supposedly has a bluegrass influence; though apparently refers to Quicksilver playing on two tracks, not necessarily the entire album; a mix of styles and influences would be typical of a Paul Simon album, and would indeed hearken back to the Graceland/Rhythm era. (Regardless of what the final version sounds like, the current Spanish version of Amulet is another indicator of that sort of direction, as is, of course, the funky feel of the first single.)

For now, the first single is interesting, the cover is very pretty, and the other hints about the album are intriguing. I look forward to hearing the rest of it. (Hint, hint.)